From Outsider to Insider – First Thoughts on Breaking Into the Cannabis Industry
By: Timmi Lasley
If you had asked me just six months ago if I thought I would ever work in the cannabis industry, I would have probably said something to the effect of “no thanks, I’m looking for a real job.” I was searching for a job nonprofit sector, something that mattered, something that made a difference. Don’t get me wrong here, I was pleased with the changes Colorado has made towards recreational use, but the change in state policy honestly altered very little about my habits surrounding the plant. As an extremely lax recreational user, I would smoke with friends, at night to relax, fun parties – you know, the usual. I certainly voted for legalization bills every time I had the chance, but that was where my engagement with the issue began and ended. (Blasphemy for some of you, I know. Please read on, I promise I come around.)
Four weeks ago I started working at Denver Relief Consulting. They hired me on as a full time Executive Admin, and in the short time that I’ve been a part of the team, I feel my entire outlook on the industry has changed. So if YOU are one of the many hundreds of folks hungry for a job in the industry, perhaps you’ll benefit from hearing a hot take from someone who never expected to find herself here! Here are a few of my favorite surprises from the past month. Enjoy!
1) Not everyone in the industry fits the stoner stereotype.
Lemme explain as someone who was outside looking in for so long: much of the non-cannabis-obsessed, average-american-type sees the whole industry as this guy (top). For comparison, here is DRC’s policy consultant Emmett Reistroffer (bottom) hard at work highlighting important stuff that he’s going to take home to work on over the weekend… Look at that button up shirt! Look at that sensible sweater! Look at the white board filled with tasks! If you’re looking to break into the field, you need to first break down your expectations about the people in it: they come in all shapes, sizes, and college degrees. Watch out! There’s probably someone in the biz right behind you!
2) Let’s talk about the work load…
I am the newest member of the team, and my knowledge of the cannabis industry at the moment pales in comparison to even our interns; my first week I logged nearly 50 hours on the clock, and that was just to get me up to speed on what is happening in the field. There is so dang much to learn; these are professional, hardworking, industrious, creative, and all together impressive people with business acumen out the ying yang, who put in long hours and a lot of blood sweat and tears. Be prepared to realize you know nothing about the industry.
3) I know nothing about the industry.
Did you know that there’s more to the pot biz than just growing it and then selling it?? I did not. When most folks think of a cannabis company they think of the cultivators, the trimmers, the retail outlet budtenders extraordinaire… But there are also the people that market, people that provide security, people that do accounting, people in all sorts of ancillary positions. Just look at my job! It’s a regular ol 9-5 office job: I sit at a desk and answer emails, scan things, enter data into spreadsheets, long for the sunshine, and also dust once a week! My point here is this: think outside the box. What skills can you offer the industry? I guarantee that they are needed somewhere. You can make moves without having to be in a grow house.
4) Not everyone in the industry is swimming in money.
Do you picture your entrepreneurial heroes falling asleep atop a pile of cash? Do you see them spending long weekends on their 40 ft sailboat, clinking champagne flutes over their oh-so-very-wise cannabis investments? Think again. Sure, the industry is of one the fastest growing in the nation, and it’s true that in Colorado alone legal marijuana sales have totaled $1 BILLION in just the last year, but what this perception of the industry fails to take into account is the huge amount of overhead investors have. Most ganjapreneurers won’t see any real return on their investment for years to come. (Not only only that, but my co-workers just informed me of the 280E Tax issue that disallows MJ businesses from taking the same tax breaks to which any other business would have access. I swear, I learn something new everyday I’m here!) If you wanna get ahead, be prepared to sacrifice, and most certainly be in it for the long haul.
Which leads me to my last and favorite point…
5) These are people who care.
To (liberally) paraphrase Dr Seuss: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, pot’s not gonna change. It’s just not.
The truly successful people really really care. Not just about their industry and their individual businesses, they care about the community as a whole. Of course they’re passionate about cannabis, but for many people I’ve met so far, that passion is rooted in finding a better way to do things. Their passion is rooted in unlocking the potential of the product, it’s found in pushing progressive policy on all fronts. Let’s face it, pot policy – at least in Colorado – is some of the most progressive policy making real headway at the state and local levels. This is thanks in no small part to the amazing people who own and operate the businesses, and believe in the power of the product to heal not just individuals, but whole communities. Think I’m over-reaching here? I would have thought so too just a month ago… but check out these areas where folks in the industry are making a difference:
Take away for Cannabis Career Seekers
Are you ready to be a thought leader, a social visionary, and broke a** mother for the foreseeable future? Then you might just be ready for this industry. I know I wasn’t, but I’m coming around quick. Before you jump into the fray, check out this amazing group of volunteers, gathered from every imaginable corner of the industry, to find out for yourself just how giving the people I get to work with truly are. Not all cannabis companies are created equal. Make sure you’re working with like minded individuals who have something to really offer the world. It’s not enough to simply grow weed; the arena is too crowded to waste time on players who don’t have the big picture in mind. Find a company whose mission statement is more than money. Find a company whose values align with your own, that way lies freedom my friend!